Friday, July 15, 2016

Year in Review: Terry's Top Ten Films of 2015

It's been a long time coming, but I have finally seen enough films to feel confident enough to write my top ten list of last year.  I try to make it a rule that I don't finalize my top ten list of the year until I have at least seen all the Best Picture nominees.  With my busy schedule, it usually takes until around now for that to happen.  As I think I say every year, it is better late than never.

To date, I have watched 28 films from 2015.  I realize probably all of my counterparts have seen that many, if not more, already in 2016 (my 2016 total right now is 3), however I have seen enough quality throughout the 2015 canon that I have no problem proclaiming my top ten of the year.  Here we go!

Honorable Mention


(dir. by Antoine Fuqua)

The Good Dinosaur
(dir. by Peter Sohn)

The Big Short
(dir. by Adam McKay)

10.  Beasts of No Nation
(dir. by Cary Joji Fukunaga)
Many people complained this year about racial bias in the Academy voting.  I think that is an unfair assessment and evaluation of the situation.  Yes, there were no African-Americans nominated in a major category this year.  However, the issue wasn't racial bias but a bias against streaming services.  The best chances African-Americans had at getting nominated was in Beasts of No Nation, a beautifully tragic film about the abduction, recruitment, brainwashing, and training of child soldiers in third world countries.  The film's star, Abraham Attah, deserved a nomination similar to Quvenzhane Wallis is 2012.  Idris Elba looked destined for his first nomination and an outside chance at winning.  At the very least, it would get the attention of the tech categories for the beautiful work of Fukunaga and his crew, showing that the first season of True Detective was a sign of the greatness to come from this young filmmaker.  However, it got no recognition.  Why?  It wasn't because of the all black cast.  It was because it was released on Netflix.  It received enough of a theatrical run to qualify for awards season, but everyone could see the film streaming online as soon as it was released.  Maybe this meant none of the important people saw it.  Maybe it meant all the moneymakers in Hollywood refused to vote for a film that refused to bring in a box office income.  Either way, Beasts of No Nation didn't get the credit it so much deserved.  Go find it on Netflix now if you haven't seen it.  It will break your heart.

9.  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
(dir. by JJ Abrams)
Now to shift gears in the furthest direction possible from the last film, here's Star Wars, the biggest box office darling of 2015.  There is a reason it made so much money though.  It was that good.  It was a film that brought the franchise back down to earth ... or whatever planet they happened to be on.  George Lucas ruined the prequels with overuse of the digital.  JJ Abrams made it all look real again.  Sure, there are way too many parallels between this and A New Hope to ignore, however it doesn't change the fact that it was possibly the most entertaining theatrical experience of the year.

8.  Room
(dir. by Lenny Abrahamson)
This was the last film I required myself to watch before I made my list, and I am so glad I did.  This film is very similar to 2011's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as it explains a horrific experience and ordeal through the eyes of a child.  However, where Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close resorted to mental illness and puzzles to connect with the audience, Room stayed much more down to earth as we see possibly the most honest and genuine performance of the year, and I am not talking about Oscar-winner Brie Larson.  Jacob Tremblay's performance in this should go down as one of the greatest child performances of all time.  His unique perspective on life and the world is shown in every moment he, or his voice, is on screen.  Somehow, this heartbreaking story of abduction and captivity is made heartfelt and inspiring through both Larson's and Tremblay's performances.

7.  The Revenant
(dir. by Alejandro G. Inarritu)
He did it again.  Who, you might ask?  There are several perfectly acceptable answers to this question.  Let's start with director Alejandro G. Inarritu.  Just one year earlier, Inarritu took home Oscars for Best Director and Picture for his groundbreaking film Birdman.  Now, he goes in a completely opposite direction and tells this story of struggle and survival in the wilderness.  His keen eye for beautiful filmmaking and setting in this might be rivaled only by Ang Lee in today's Hollywood.  Now, the other very acceptable answer to my original question is, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio.  Although he may have finally been recognized by the Academy with his first Oscar for this film, he once again proves that he might go down as one of the greatest actors of all time.  He has such a natural ability to disappear into any role he plays, and not in a campy, makeup way like Johnny Depp.  Leo just simply is whoever he needs to be.  Whether it be as the "King of the World" in Titanic, a con-artist kid in Catch Me If You Can, an eccentric entrepreneur in The Aviator, an undercover cop in The Departed, a plantation owner in Django Unchained, a crooked stock broker in The Wolf of Wall Street, or a man mauled by a bear determined to survive and live in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers the most believable performances in any film he makes.  He is simply the best of his generation, and it is about time the Academy honored him as such.

6.  Ex Machina
(dir. by Alex Garland)
This was definitely the biggest surprise of the year.  This brilliant film by Alex Garland, who had written several screenplays but was making his directorial debut here, explored the world of true artificial intelligence.  Appearing yet again on this list, Oscar Isaac (Star Wars) and Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars, The Revenant) star as the mad scientist and his guinea pig.  Alicia Vikander plays a robot that is very hard to recognize as such because she acts, thinks, reacts, and speaks just like a human.  It is an endlessly fascinating film that gets in your head and doesn't go away for awhile.  If you haven't seen it, do whatever you can to change that.

5.  The Hateful Eight
(dir. by Quentin Tarantino)
Why did I every doubt the master?  When I heard the plot and even saw the trailer for The Hateful Eight, it felt like a film that was bound to disappoint.  Quentin Tarantino makes films like no one else has ever even thought of.  However, a second consecutive film about a bounty hunter; this time stuck in a room for two hours with a bunch of other people?  Really?  I was skeptical to say the least.  Then I saw it and hated myself for ever thinking Tarantino could produce anything but a masterpiece.  This film's closest relative is definitely Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino's first film.  However, he also does things Tarantino has never done before.  He takes the time for long, landscape shots.  A filmmaker obsessed with dialogue let this film breathe almost more than any other film he has made.  I have said before that Quentin Tarantino has created his own genre.  The Hateful Eight shows that he is still the king of that genre he created.

4.  Brooklyn
(dir. by John Crowley)
Brooklyn is a beautiful story of love, loss, and self-discovery.  It is like a 20th century Jane Austen tale.  Saoirse Ronan is absolutely brilliant as a young Irish girl leaving everything she knows to find a new and better life for herself in America.  You know it is a good film when you are sad it ends because you want to live in these characters' lives a little longer.  I loved every minute of it.  On a side note, let's recognize the amazing year Domhnall Gleeson put together.  This is his fourth appearance in my top ten.  Few actors find enough work to put out four movies in a year.  Not only did Gleeson accomplish that, but all four films are among the very best of 2015.  Well done!

3.  The Martian
(dir. by Ridley Scott)
I have very high standards for movies in outer space, especially realistic ones.  Apollo 13 has scarred me for life.  With that said, The Martian is the closest thing to the greatness of Apollo 13 I have seen.  Matt Damon plays an astronaut left for dead on the Martian surface.  To everyone's surprise, including his own, he is still alive and must survive on Mars until someone can come get him.  Everyone made fun of the fact that this was categorized as a comedy at the Golden Globes.  Although I wouldn't classify it as such, it is quite funny.  Matt Damon and others are able to keep this potentially tragic survival story light and humorous throughout.  I normally am not a huge fan of Ridley Scott, but he really produced a masterpiece with this one.

2.  Spotlight
(dir. by Tom McCarthy)
The surprise winner of Best Picture deserved every accolade it received.  I have been a fan of Tom McCarthy's work for some time.  His unique way of telling stories in films like The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win is always heartfelt and approachable, not matter the topic.  I even liked The Cobbler much more than I should have!  Now we find McCarthy's masterpiece.  Spotlight tells the true story of the investigation done by the Boston Globe surrounding child abuse and molestation in the Catholic church.  It is a heavy and depressing topic that could easily be preachy.  However, the film takes a very different approach.  It simply tells the story from the point of view of the reporters.  At no point do we "see" anything because the reporters didn't see anything.  Every character is a real person as the performances are some of the most understated and brilliant you will see on screen.  This is led by Liev Schreiber, an outsider new to the area that brings a fresh set of eyes to a topic many seemed to turn a blind eye to in the close-knit community of Boston.  It is a quiet, real, yet intense movie you cannot take your eyes off of.  Movies don't get much better than this.

1.  Inside Out
(dir. by Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)
Pixar is king when it comes to animated films.  They simply operate on a different level than every other animated studio.  Their secondary film this year made my honorable mention!  However, every now and then, they make a film that is truly a masterpiece regardless of whether it is animated or live action.  Inside Out is one of those films.  It is fun and entertaining for the kids, yet it has a message that is profound and genuine.  This film takes you inside the head of a young girl where her five key emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness) control her actions and attitude.  The intricate world that is built to represent her mind is a genius way to describe how our brains work.  As chaos enters the young girl's life, chaos erupts in the brain's control room as Joy must try and fix what has been broken.  Being someone who works with kids often, I had such a deeper appreciation for the immense thought and care that was put into such a story that really explores the psyche of a pre-teen better than any film I have ever seen.  When Pixar makes films like this and WALL-E, they are not only making a fun kid's film.  They are making a cinematic masterpiece that will stand the test of time.

So there's my list.  What do you think?  Check our page later this week to see what films made our site's top 5 films of 2015.

1 comment:

  1. I like it! We had our money on Spotlight, Inside Out, or The Martian being at the top of your list, Glad to see we were right lol.

    You got to check out Creed, especially if you liked Southpaw. Also, Straight Outta Compton is amazing!